The video we just watched was entitled A Leper’s Story and sought to get behind the story that we will be looking at today. It sought to add some additional depth and dimension to this story of when heaven touched down on earth.
Over the course of the last 3 weeks we have looked at other stories within Scripture that have shown us a glimpse of what it looked like when heaven touched down on earth. Three weeks ago Dave Witmer, my church planting coach looked at the story of Jesus turning water into wine. Two weeks ago I looked at the story of the paralytic who was lowered down from the roof by his four friends. And last week Rachel did a great job walking us through the story of the healing of Jairus’s daughter and the woman who was bleeding for 12 years.
Today as we saw in the video we’ll look at the story found in Mark 1:40-45 where Jesus heals a Leper. So let’s turn to Mark 1:40-45 and see what it might have to say to us today about what it looks like when heaven touched down on earth.
“A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
So in this story we see a man with leprosy coming to Jesus begging Jesus to heal him. To understand this story and the radical nature of what happens in it, we actually need to understand what leprosy is, as it isn’t something that we normally think about or have much knowledge of. But it doss still occur around the world, but in fewer and fewer cases.
Leprosy, in the Bible, described a wide range of skin complaints of which what we call leprosy is only one. And was feared to be highly infectious. Leprosy starts as small red spots on the skin. Before too long the spots get bigger and start to turn whir, with a shiny or scaly appearance. The spots spread over the body and hair begins to fall out- first from the head then even the eyebrows. As things get worse, fingernails and toenails become loose, they start to to rot and fall off. Joints of fingers and toes begin to root and fall off, piece by piece. Gums begin to shrink and teeth become loose and fall out. Leprosy keeps eating away at the face until the nose, the palate, and even eyes rot and the Leper wastes away until they die.
But while the physical suffering was really really bad, maybe the worst part of the disease was how Lepers were treated. In Leviticus 13:45-46 we read these words about what happens when someone has leprosy…”Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.” Lepers had to dress like people mourning the dead. They were actually considered the living dead. The first zombie apocalypse, if you will. According to the text we read they had to cry out anywhere they went, “Unclean. Unclean.” According to Jewish custom, people shouldn’t even greet a leper and lepers were to stay at least 6 feet away from others. So when someone was “diagnosed” as having leprosy, they were removed from all that they knew. They had to leave home and their families. Their wives, husbands, children, etc.. They couldn’t work and they had to beg for money, and pray that someone would actually have compassion on them and their state. But compassion for Lepers wasn’t something that happened that much, especially from the religious community. One Rabbi bragged that he wouldn’t even buy an egg on a street where he saw a leper. Another one boasts that he threw rocks at Lepers to keep them far from him. People in Jesus day thought 2 things about Lepers. 1. You are the walking dead. 2. You deserve this because this is the punishment of God against you. Lepers didn’t normally arouse compassion. They normally aroused disgust, especially by the religious establishment. It is like what Mother Teresa said, “We have drugs for people with diseases like leprosy. But these drugs do not treat the main problem, the disease of being unwanted. That’s what my sisters hope to provide. The sick and poor suffer even more from rejection than material want. Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
So with that background in place let’s take a deeper look at what is happening in the story. A Leper comes to Jesus holding out hope that Jesus could cleanse him from this dreaded disease. He says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” You can see the crowd moving away from the Leper and only Jesus stepping towards him. This was no doubt his last ditch effort to try to be cleansed from his disease. He, no doubt, had heard of Jesus, and thought to himself, “maybe Jesus can heal me of my dreaded disease.” And so he comes to Jesus, gets on his knees and begins to beg and plead with Jesus in ordered to be free of his deadly condition, one that no doubt he had been living with for many many years.
The Scripture than says that Jesus was indignant but many translations actually say compassion. Is this a contradiction? Isn’t there a huge difference between indignation and compassion? I believe there is a way to say that Jesus was filled with both. I believe that Jesus was indignant at the system that allowed this man to be seen as the living dead, and unworthy of any human love, relationships, or touch. And indignant at the disease that racked this man’s body and the sin/brokenness within the world that caused the disease. But he had a deep love and compassion for the man that many reviled and spat upon and were filled with disgust for. And his deep love and compassion led him to do something that was totally radical and against religious tradition and Jewish ceremonial law.
We find what this radical action was in verse 41 when we read, “He reached out his hand and touched the man.” He touched the leper. No doubt Jesus could have just said the words “Be Clean” and the Leper would have been cleansed from his disease.
But there is something so profound here in the act of Jesus actually touching the man. Jesus wasn’t scared of the man. He wasn’t scared that he would get leprosy. He wasn’t scared or worried that he would have been seen as unclean himself because he had just touched a leper. He was able to enter into the man’s pain and brokenness. Jesus isn’t afraid of our own brokenness and sin. He doesn’t stay 6 feet away from us and make us yell out “Unclean” He enters into our mess and the brokenness of our lives. He touches us and heals our brokenness (spiritually, relationally, emotionally, etc..) He is not repulsed by our sin and he doesn’t throw rocks of judgment at us. He is filled with compassion for us just how he was filled with compassion for the Leper.
So instead of just saying “Be Clean” Jesus physically touched the man. In Luke’s account of this same story we read that the man was full of leprosy, meaning that this man was in advanced stages of leprosy. It was probably a very long time since the man had felt anyone’s touch. A long time since anyone looked at him with love and compassion. A long time since anyone reached out and put their hand on him. With that touch Jesus did a lot more than just heal the man from leprosy, he healed him relationally as well. He healed his heart and all the broken relationships that happened because of his disease.
So immediately upon Jesus’ touch, the man’s leprosy was gone. He was whole againHe was cleansed in more ways than just from his leprosy. He was cleansed physically of course, but he would be cleansed spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.
And then Jesus says these words, which brings a lot of questions with them, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
A couple questions come to mind right away. Why did Jesus warn the Leper not to tell anyone? Why did Jesus tell him to go to the priest? Let’s look at the second question first. Why did Jesus tell him to“ go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them”? You see if a blind person or a crippled person was healed, it would have been very easy to tell that they had been healed. But if a Leper showed up in their hometown, claiming to be healed, people would be deeply suspicious. The Leper needed to go through the official system because only a priest could deem the leper to be clean. Jesus was telling the Leper to go to the priest and keep the command of Moses, not to be made clean (which Jesus had already done) but to be seen as clean. We see the cleansing ritual that would have been performed on the man when he went to the priest in Leviticus 14:1-32, not that a priest had ever performed this act of restoring a leper. Only God could heal a leper, but the priest was the one who could pronounce him clean to the community. And in so doing, the relational walls that were built upon because of the disease could come crumbling down. When he was pronounced clean by the Priest his relationships would be restored. He could return home, hug his wife, kiss his kids, have a job to give him dignity again, and be a part of the community again.
Secondly, why did Jesus tell him, or strongly warn him not to tell anyone. Was Jesus using reverse psychology on the man, so that he would go and tell others? Or was something else going on? There are a few possibilities. Maybe Jesus might have been“worried” that news leading out about what he was doing. Things which seemed to challenge the authority of the temple itself. And if he was seen as challenging the authority of the temple, the hand of the Religious establishment would come down on him sooner rather than later. It might attract the wrong kind of attention. People would get angry and wonder if he was by-passing the system. They would begin to ask questions like: Is he a loyal Jew? Can his message about the Kingdom of God be real? Can we believe in him? Isn’t he dangerous? Hasn’t this gone too far?
But whatever the reason for Jesus strongly warning the Leper not to tell anyone, he actually disobeys Jesus warning and spreads the news about his healing, which if we read it linearly, he does before he actually goes and shows himself to the Priest. And because of the Leper’s disobedience we read the result, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
So after reading the story of Jesus healing the Leper, doing some research on Leprosy, and unpacking the text, I am left with some questions that will be our main focus during our discussion time.
One of the first questions that I am thinking about is how has God entered into our mess and our struggle. When have you seen God come close to you in your time of brokenness? When has he drawn near, in spite of the sin within your own life? And how can we then draw near to others, even in the midst of their own brokenness and sin?
Secondly, one of the biggest and most obvious question that we need to talk about is “Who are the Lepers in our day?” Who are the people that we put outside the camp? Who are the group of people that we call Unclean, that we won’t let come within 6 feet of us, and who we throw “rocks” at? I don’t believe there is only one answer to this question, by the way. Who are the people that the religious establishment has ostracized, and condemned? And if Jesus were here on the face of this earth right now, how would he engage with our modern day “Lepers”?
And lastly, when Jesus touched the Leper and healed him, he healed him holistically, including telling him to see the priest. In what ways has Jesus healed you holistically? Spiritually, emotionally, physically, and relationally? And how can God use you to heal others holistically?
Let’s get into groups and dialogue around these questions together.
1. When have you seen God come close to you in your time of brokenness? When has he drawn near, in spite of the sin within your own life? And how can we then draw near to others, even in the midst of their own brokenness and sin?
2 .Who are the Lepers in our day?” Who are the people that we put outside the camp? Who are the group of people that we call Unclean, that we won’t let come within 6 feet of us, and who we throw “rocks” at? Who are the people that the religious establishment has ostracized, and condemned? And if Jesus were here on the face of this earth right now, how would he engage with our modern day “Lepers”?
3. In what ways has Jesus healed you holistically? Spiritually, emotionally, physically, and relationally? And how can God use you to heal others holistically?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?